Few things can rob a precious young girl of her inherent dignity more than to be a victim of sex trafficking. Yet, according to the State Department's recently released 2011 Trafficking in Persons report, a staggering 27 million people around the globe annually are forced into the reality of modern day slavery.
Of this number, UNICEF estimates that as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution globally every year.
The report ranks 184 countries' efforts to combat and overcome the trafficking of persons; this year's worst offenders include North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But while it might be tempting to see sex trafficking as an international, or foreign, issue, it is not. Even as the United States for the second year in a row received the highest possible score, estimates suggest at least 100,000 children are victim to domestic sex trafficking annually in our country. And as one might expect, women and girls are disproportionately hurt by sex slavery.
Linda Smith, former congresswoman and president and founder of Shared Hope International, has dedicated much of her career to stopping sex slavery. During a recent briefing on this issue she commented on the situation in the U.S.
"We found a silent slavery unheard of, unexposed and unaddressed. What I saw were girls...that look so young that they were in the back seat of a car giggling, and it wasn't foreign, it was American girls."
What can be done to stop this atrocious and sleazy crime?
Part of the solution is simply calling this crime what it is. According to U.S. law, any child under the age of 18 involved in prostitution is by definition engaged in sex trafficking. Unfortunately, some groups become part of the problem by advocating for "rights" of youth sex workers rather than fighting to free them from forced bondage. For example, earlier this week, the UN issued such a statement, saying that rather than fight sex slavery and child prostitution, the UN would instead advocate for youth "sex worker rights."
Another critical part of the solution is decreasing demand. "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" is the name of a new Internet initiative founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore dedicated to ending sex trafficking in the United States. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the initiative has its enemies. The Village Voice, a media outlet based out of New York City, has lashed out at Kutcher under the guise of debating data. In truth, The Voice is part of the problem, in that it lists sex services in its own classified advertisements.
Another important component to ending human trafficking is simply reporting suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials. One would think that in a particular way, groups dedicated to working with adolescents have an ethical, if not legal, obligation to report such situations to authorities. However, we know this common-sense approach was not applied by an organization that receives significant government funding each year.
Planned Parenthood receives over a third of its billion-dollar budget annually from state and government funds, $363 million in the last year reported. In February, an undercover investigative sting discovered that six out of seven Planned Parenthood clinics did not report apparent child sex slavery to law enforcement. In fact, in one case, a Planned Parenthood staff member went so far as to provide advice on how the child prostitutes might "continue work" while recovering from an abortion. She advised the "pimp" that the underage girls consider working "from the waist up" for a period of time since they would be unable to have intercourse immediately following an abortion.
It seems counter-intuitive, if not deeply troubling, that such a group uses millions of taxpayer dollars a year to shape the minds of America's young people in matters of human sexuality. Perhaps the U.S. government should consider evaluating its major funding recipients on child protection protocol compliance, or better yet, simply stop sending taxpayer monies to the scandal-plagued organization.
Sex slavery must end. But it is not just overseas anymore. That means it is our responsibility – here in our communities – to do whatever we can to assure that little girls are never forced to lose their innocence and dignity in this way.
Jeanne Monahan is director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.